For those about to sit

Yogamum left a comment on my last entry:

I am so intrigued by the idea of a sitting meditation practice. It’s one thing I’d love to learn more about someday. Right now whenever I try it, my mind will NOT shut up for even one second. It’s comical, actually.

Can you recommend any good books or other resources? I don’t know that I have time to seek out a teacher right now.

***

People have asked about this before, so I’m going to just write a little something about getting started with sitting.

First off, there are a million books on sitting and zen. As The Cop knows, because they are all over our house. There are books about the physical aspects of sitting. There are books about theory. Books about teachers. Books about individual practitioners’ experiences. Traditional inspirational tomes. There’s even a “Meditation for Dummies” book.

It does not escape me that I probably collect all these books because reading them is easier than just sitting. Sitting, as Brad Warner (yes, author of more books I can’t seem to resist) has pointed out, is boring.

It’s also fascinating, but perhaps not in the way one might imagine. For one thing, you don’t get to just sit down and experience enlightenment. Bummer.

And if you strive, you fail. (Flashback to asana practice!)

If you just sit there, though, you’ll find it is pretty funny, frightening, frustrating, irritating, horrifying, humiliating, humorous, amazing, boring to watch your own mind.

Much as my cat dislikes it when I watch him pee, so my mind seems to resist my prying eyes. It almost inevitably tells me that I don’t want to sit. Just like getting up for Ashtanga practice in the morning, as soon as you ask yourself if you feel like doing it, all is lost.

And if you keep asking, “What am I getting out of this?” you’re probably gonna crash and burn. You pretty much just have to do it without thinking about it.

And you’ll get to see your mind at work. Being busy and delusional and all that.

It’s not all that dramatic, but it is rather instructive.

For just a plain ‘ol primer on sitting, check out this link.

The sad fact of the matter, I’m afraid, is that you actually do just sit there. You try to meditate by some method (I’ve always liked just counting the breath to 10) and then things come up in your mind and then you start over. Again. And again. Ad nauseum.

But what else have you got to do? What better way to spend some time? Have no fear: your mind will think up ALL kinds of better things for you to be doing. But you know all the things your mind says? Well, they’re not always true or necessary or in need of immediate attention. In fact, many of the things your mind thinks of actually don’t need any attention at all! Big freedom just in realizing that.

So don’t worry when you start off. Quieting your mind really will seem impossible. It happens to everyone. One way to deal with it is to forget about trying to make it be still, and just be open to seeing how it jumps around. You really do have to spend some time watching just how wild your mind is. After a while, it’ll slow down. You know…with practice 🙂

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2 Responses

  1. That was really helpful, thanks.

    I guess some part of me doesn’t want to believe it can really be that simple (and that difficult). You just…sit. And breathe. And observe. Huh. I can do that.

    I really have to try it out more seriously.

    Thanks!

  2. I was told a story once about how we flap around trying to catch the butterfly, but that if we just sit still, it would come to us.

    Sounds difficult to me anyway 🙂

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